The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Every Good Tree

A few days ago, I wrote:
A central part of the conservative mindset is an intuitive recognition of how weak is the moral coupling between intentions and results, rejecting the progressive idea that good intentions can somehow place the results above suspicion.
I was put in mind of this again while reading Alex Tabarrok's comments on Jonathan Kozol. You should read Mr. Tabarrok's entire post, but I want to comment on the quote from Mr. Kozol at the end:
Vouchers elevate the lowest instincts of humanity over the most beautiful instincts.
There are actually two separate statements contained in this sentence. One is the statement of normative intent: the fact that vouchers, like markets, work even in the presence of base motives is, for Mr. Kozol, reason to oppose rather than to praise them. But the second implicit statement, of priorities, is even worse: it is Mr. Kozol's statment of the important of his own aesthetic judgement. By even advancing this argument, he claims that his sensibilities deserve to be weighed on the same scale as the real well-being of those affected by vouchers, and to come out heavier. I wouldn't treat a dog with that kind of arrogance.

By preferring "beautiful instincts" to results, Mr. Kozol is effectively advocating for purification of the soul through suffering. Yet he is called, not medieval, but "progressive".